Catch as Catch Can (August 20-26, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Hot ‘lanta

This show, besides being engrossing, entertaining, enlightening, and (sorry, no “e” word) challenging, can’t be beat for music. I know you likely know this already, but at least I have finally arrived at the club. It was exerting its influence a week ago, then this week sent this supposed aficionado diving deeper into Florida man Little Beaver’s repertoire, heading to the outskirts of Curtis Mayfield’s just-post-accident work, and seeking to explain Death Grips to my spouse (and convert us both, as I still sit on the fence).

Driven! Driven Driven Driven! To School!

I began teaching last week, and even though it’s a mere five miles round-trip to campus and back, across a week I close-listen to a considerable amount of music. I have referred to the old ’93 Ford Splash as “The Lab” on this blog before; it’s where I really, really study a piece of music, because when I’m in the house I’m extremely likely to be buried in a book or grading or planning or doing a bit of house-husbandry. This week’s “Lab” highlights were as follows:

William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook–Look, there’s never been a jazz violinist as dynamic as the late Billy Bang. Parker’s the leader, Hamid Drake’s the drummer, and they are farrrrrr from slouches. But, particularly with the very, very present recording on this Thirsty Ear release, Bang illustrates why the world misses him sorely by ranging across country hoe-down, deep blues, Middle Eastern conjure, mischievous dissonance, and uncategorizable invention. Check it:

John Lee Hooker: The Legendary Modern Recordings–I’ll be honest. I’d only ever programmed around the song selection here to get to the iconic stuff before I just let it play mid-week, and was taught by the master not to do that kind of shit no more. I’d always assumed “Down Child” was just a Hookerian knock-off of the great Sonny Boy Williamson track, which I adore. Um, wrong.

Elvis Costello: Get Happy!–I don’t listen to EC much these days, but I hear he’s ill, and I like to keep such artists in my heart, at least for awhile. He was very important to me at 17: I liked words a lot, he liked words a lot, and could sling them; my heart was underfoot more than occasionally, and he’d identified this thing called “emotional facism.” In short, I was not alone. Critically, this album usually gets ranked pretty low compared to its three predecessors, but you know the deal with critics. I was a freshman at the University of Arkansas when it came out, and it spoke to me like (rather, unlike) a college advisor. This one was mysterious to me then, though, and thus I loved it; now it is plain as day to me, and thus I love it (plus somewhere in the distance he hears The Possum, a mental malady we share):

Oh, yeah, school: here’s a Spotify playlist of the songs my students shared, our first day in class, as songs everyone should listen to.

Death

A couple of friends have stepped on a rainbow of late, and at the end of the week a truly magnificent former student, still much in the bloom of youth, was snatched suddenly by an aneurysm (my sources say).  I know it’s irrational, but the fact that he doesn’t get to be here doing good things and treating humans well while others get to be publicly (and apparently unstoppably) egregious on an hourly basis just twists my fucking knickers. Then things got a bit dark. Then I reached for something–a couple things–old, strong, and loud to hold off the gloom.

Hint to those of you mourning: it works. For awhile. But that might be all the time your mind and heart need.

Hot ‘Lanta Stays Hot

By week’s end, I was still being sent on excavational errands by the got-dang show. I’d worked my way through Little Beaver’s catalog, then my eMusic download subscription came up (sorry, that site sucks and I’m about done with it) and, as usual lately, I was having trouble finding something to buy. Then this–very much carrying on the work of Little Richard and Pat Todd–appeared under the “You might also like…” banner:

I did like. Buoyant.

The Pool

The pool was the first place where music became a regularly active force in my life. I’d shared an essay draft Thursday with my new Stephens students (who, by the way, are awesome and full of music love and ideas for learning) about how my town pool jukebox revolutionized my mind while it was babysitting me:

Phillip Overeem

English 107

Personal Essay (Draft)

August 22, 2018

The Pool

            The city pool was my babysitter when I was a pre-teen. I learned to swim early, I loved the sun, I loved those high boards that the 21st century deems unsafe, and, I admit, I loved chasing girls around. More than anything, though, I loved the jukebox. At that time—the early 1970s—I didn’t own a turntable, and hadn’t become aware of the radio, so a trip to the pool meant a dive into the American Top 40 as well as the deep end. I could neither sing nor dance, but I had ears, and, living in a small town, I heard something spinning off the juke’s 45 RPM records that sounded more alive than anything in my house, neighborhood, or school. Something more alive, and very different.

The only trouble was, the liveliness and difference wasn’t present in every song—not by a long shot. One had to wait for it, or rather, keep one’s ears pricked for it, since one was usually screaming, doing back flips, illegally running, or trying to set personal breath-holding records, especially when one was 12. Generally, what one would tend to hear was something like this (the reader will have to imagine instrumentation and rhythm as “vivid” as these lyrics, likely scribbled in three minutes by Bread’s David Gates):

Baby I’m-a want you
Baby I’m-a need you
You’re the only one I care enough to hurt about
Maybe I’m-a crazy
But I just can’t live without
your lovin’ and affection
Givin’ me direction. 

Or might one prefer this gem of deep thought by the band Lobo?

Baby, I’d love you to want me
The way that I want you
The way that it should be
Baby, you’d love me to want you
The way that I want to
If you’d only let it be.

Well, one might. In fact, at my city pool, many did, so many that, in my sleep, I was hearing those grade-school-love-notes-set-to-sappy-music on a loop. However, I could endure 10 straight plays of either of those songs if the 11th song went a little something like this, fromDonald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan (reader, try to put a sing-song melody under these words):

We hear you’re leaving, that’s okay
I thought our little wild time had just begun
I guess you kind of scared yourself, you turn and run
But if you have a change of heart
Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home.

Wait a minute? What’s this “little wild time”? How do you “scare yourself”? Why the heck is it so important that Rikki not lose that dang number? And why does the singer sing it in sinister fashion? I could think for hours about that and not get bored—or get to the bottom of the song. The vocabulary wasn’t Shakespearean, but the situation was a bit complex, especially for a sixth grader. The song was interesting. It was one of several on the box that taught me that life is interesting, and that curiosity about it was fun. I wasn’t exactly getting that in school.

            Don’t get me wrong, though. The attraction wasn’t just about the lyrics. Sometimes my ears could easily wade through 20 songs’ worth of Velveeta cheese to catch just a snippet of a record with pretty ho-hum lyrics that were simply sung like the performer had just won the lottery. Take one of my favorites, “Then Came You,” by the Spinners, featuring an amazing guest appearance by Dionne Warwick: a bouncing piano intro leads into Ms. Warwick jubilantly singing the praises of her beloved, going so far as to admit that “every time I’m near ya / I get that urge to feel ya”—yes, I did find those lyrics interesting. But when she hits the chorus, aided and abetted by the Spinners’ great lead singer Philippe Wynne, her voice, and the song, take off like a 747: “I never knew love before / Then came you”—nothin’ fancy, but delivered in a way that I could feel in my fingers and my toes. I could play it endlessly, or at least until I ran out of dimes, and I had to stop what I was doing, because at the end of the song Warwick and Wynne transform themselves from 747s into twin rockets of rhythmic improvisation. This went beyond interest; this was difference. Nothing—not music, not anything—had gotten to my fingers and toes before. I’d never heard singers just take off and invent, instead of just singing the same chorus lines the same way until the needle lifted. And the texture, the flexibility, the depth, the grit, the yearning in these voices? I’d never heard it anywhere.

            I’d never heard it anywhere, in any form, because I attended an all-white elementary and swam at the city municipal pool, on the west side of town. I didn’t know it yet, but the difference only existed because I had been separated from some particular fellow human beings.

NOTE: I am not finished with my draft—I deliberately left it incomplete for discussion purposes. I’m quite interested in your input, plus I wanted to help stimulate some ideas of your own.

Lo and behold if I didn’t find myself at the local public pool today, slumming, reading Charles Willeford’s Sideswipe, and…well, goddam it, they don’t have jukeboxes anymore, and the satellite fare was uninspiring, so I put the earbuds in and got knocked out by a current next big thing–actually, I don’t think she’s next, and think she’s here. Anyway, now I have a conclusion for my essay!

Here’s what I shared on a FB music group. I’m just gonna plagiarize myself, and we’ll see if the hot take stands up to time’s slot-mouth and squint:

I warmed up to Mitski last year via a KEXP show. I am really liking the new ‘un. I’m picking up a Joni throb-n-trill in her singing, but also her erotics in some of the singing. Also, along with the shifting personae, the musical dynamics are subtle and make a big difference to my concentration. I’m assigning a listening session for my students.

Last ‘Lanta

Did you know there’s an official Spotify playlist for all the stuff that’s been featured on Atlanta‘s soundtrack so far? You probably did, I did not, I passed it on to Nicole, and she’s listened to it at school all week. In case you are slow on the zeitgeist uptake like me, here’s the link, podnahs:

 

 

Scattergories (August 13-18, Columbia, MO)

I continue to struggle to report more frequently, but maybe it’s better if I let things build up. Some areas of my life into which great music wormed its way this week:

Spousal Relations

Nicole and I are two peas in a pod (metaphor not simile), and living with me, she stays pretty up to date on things. Sometimes it might not be her choice. However, she made a discovery this week that made me very happy.  She’s voluntarily given me charge of keeping her vehicle’s iPod full of goodies. Massive folders of New Orleans joys, Memphis grit, and Dead Moon/Pierced Arrows wailings I’ve already built I am not to touch again, but that leaves me about 2.5G. I’d constructed her a rap playlist, vowing to stick to irresistible stuff so she could get her mojo going more easily on her drive out to school. We were riding together when this shuffled out:

Turns out she wasn’t familiar with the Dirt Dog, Big Baby Jesus, the late lamented O…D…to the motherfuckin’ B! Her expression registered both shock and delight at his unchained style (how well I remember the same feeling!). I explained that he reliably stole every track he ever guested on, that he’d stepped on a rainbow–I saw a wave of sadness sweep over her face–and that…well…there’s more where that come from. This very morning we repeat played “Ghetto Superstar” for his bars, and coming soon will be his levitation of “Woo Hah! Got You All in Check!” on the remix tip.

We also followed our informal Friday night ritual of a pizza, a pitcher, and some platters. We get comfy in the living room and stack a few CDs in the changer, then shut up and listen. Nicole’s better at being quiet than I am–sometimes both my enthusiasm and my teacher tendencies–“OK, now who do you think that is on sax? Yes, you do too know who that is?”–can interfere. Aretha’s passing has hit us hard like it has most music nuts, and we chose to concentrate on her Atlantic debut I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You and the later Lady Soul. I’d put ’em up against any great album you can name for the overwhelming amount of fine, sublime details. If I get started on them, I’ll never stop, but here were our two highlights:

School

I am about to step back in front of my freshman comp / pop music class for another semester, and I never like doing things the same way twice. I’ve been brainstorming, but haven’t gotten far–there’s so much I can do, it’s hard to focus, and if I have a demon, it’s that. All I’ve decided so far is to spend some time on Day 1 off-syllabus to find out how they listen to and write about music with something responsive, probably to (duh) a carefully selected Aretha piece. Maybe they will have had too much Re by Tuesday, when class begins; maybe I’ll employ Mitski, The Internet, JLin, or Lori McKenna; maybe I’ll use the never-has-failed clip of Anita O’Day at Newport ’58. Just something to draw them out and force them to furrow their brows. Probably not anyone named Minaj–that might seem desperate. It’s a women’s college, so I like to keep women in the forefront, but hearing this masterpiece over the closing credits of an Atlanta episode (we’ve just begun watching it, slow, sorry) has me currently tempted to lead with it–it’s about a great woman, after all:

Friends

We met our friends Brock, Annell, and George to take in the current big screen preparation of Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special at one of the local theaters. I’d been on tenterhooks waiting to see it for the umpteenth time, this time with brighter colors (surely it would be restored!) and even more vibrant and powerful sound (surely the soundtrack would be remastered!). No, and no. Should have known better, considering the last, oh, forty years of Presley puke-up (sorry, it hasn’t been that bad, but nor has it quite approached mediocrity). In addition to the lazy preparation, the special was preceded by an awkward co-interview between producer Steve Binder and a very Madame Tussaud-looking Priscilla Presley that revealed little not already known, and followed by a gag reel in which 80% of the content was in the actual show. Somebody needs to look up the definition of gag reel; it was like a cinematic Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. They’d have been wise not to fuck with the actual special, but of course that was where they expended extra effort. I didn’t say smart effort. We did get to see some never-officially-viewed footage, but more frequently the additions didn’t make sense–and one subtraction was downright blockheaded: whose idea was it to CUT the opening to the black-leather-concert “One Night with You,” where Elvis experiences a flash of inspiration and says, “I think I’ll put a strap on this and stand up!”? It’s a great moment in rock and roll television: the strap fails, Elvis has to think quickly–and transitions into the “dirty” original version of Smiley Lewis’ song, then titled “One Night of Sin.” Instead, the new edit begins right after all that has happened. I’d include the full version here, but guess what? It’s not even on YouTube! Anyway, we did still enjoy it (probably everyone else more than I, since I was, I guess, laying for it, just waiting for the honchos to fuck it up)–because it’s hard to kill The King:

Also, my New Orleans pals Clifford and Robert sent me some gems via Dropbox. They are among my wisest and most broad-minded friends when it comes to music, and they’re overflowing with stories, too. From the former I received a mesmerizing tango album from 2007, Daniel Telingo’s Maldito Tango, that I’ve already played twice in the last 36 hours:

From the latter, who has been extraordinarily generous lately by also hipping me to numerous Brazilian musicians I was shame-facedly unfamiliar with, I received an infusion of rare tracks by the great Southern soul man and songwriter Dan Penn, whom we both admire:

Reading

I’ve been digging into the short fiction and non-fiction of Tennessee writer William Gay, and I just finished his neat reminiscence of Bob Dylan’s entry into his life, and the resulting social fallout he encountered. From my previous readings (the haunting Southern noir Twilight and a passel of short stories), I wouldn’t even have imagined Gay had been a Dylan fan. His fictional presence is McCarthian; I had assumed he might have set his musical bar sky-high, not that that’s a barrier to the man from Hibbing, but still. Anyway, “The Man in the Attic” is very charming–not a typical Gay quality–and very true. It can be found in the collection Time Done Been Won’t Be No More, which if you do Kindle Unlimited is at your fingertips, and which features some additional excellent music writing. Recommended to any Dylan fan, and it will prompt you into the stacks.

Purchases

If you’ve been reading me, you know I’ve been struggling to cut down on buying physical media–at least CDs, but I am fond of them, too. This week I bought two early Moe Bandy CDs from Amazon that I thought must be reissues, but I must have been distracted from reading carefully when I did the clickin’–they are those nefarious “ripped from vinyl” items that the website actually offers. Album art: check. Song list: check. Nothing else. No notes, no record label, no source info. At least I didn’t already have one of them (It Was Always So Easy to Find an Unhappy Woman Until I Started Looking for Mine); I’d already ripped my vinyl copy of I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today to digital myself! Dumkopf!

(The guy had a way with album covers.)

I also bought–oh, about 40 years too late (the story of my life, perhaps even my birth)–Murder by Guitar, a compilation of singles by the San Francisco punk band Crime. I knew about them from Sonic Youth’s cover of their “Hot Wire My Heart,” then got very belatedly reminded I needed to check into their work early this week after finishing Alice Bag’s terrific memoir Violence Girl–by the way, her 2018 album Blueprint is seriously underrated. So, I hit Discogs, ordered said comp, it arrived in a flash, and damn, folks, if you need a dose of serrated-edge punk rock and you didn’t know much about ’em either, act now. They sound to me like obvious precursors of what’s come to be called garage punk (nicely documented by New Bomb Turk Eric Davidson in his book on the genre, We Never Learn). Very, very exciting:

 

 

 

Think Of What You’ve Done (August 7-12, Columbia, Missouri)

Dang! When I said several days ago that, from now on, I was gonna write only when I felt like it and had something pressing to say, I didn’t expect myself to actually heed my own proclamation! I never do in other areas of my life! Honestly, I am preparing for the school year. I did start a mini-project to catch up on some films I’d neglected (The Witch, Anti-Christ, The Holy Mountain, Spring Breakers, My Darling Clementine–which of those things is not like the others?). I was striving to keep up my reading pace (16 books ahead of my Goodreads Challenge–what is it with me and goals?). I do have a darlin’ wife and some good pals. So I need to get off my own goddam back!

However, some music did burst through those teeming waves of other things to really get my attention. Prime among them was Dust-to-Digital‘s truly amazing Goodbye, Babylon (from 2003), a six-disc compendium of approximately 50 years of intense American religious music and sacred disquisition. Rather than describe how it’s packaged, lemme just show you:

LEDBETTER

The raw cotton’s inside the box, and that baby at the upper right is a 200-page book that’s worth considerable just by itself. Five discs of tunes, one of sermons that can make a confirmed atheist cut his eyes at his speakers. Here’s the box’s Bandcamp link, through which you can investigate the contents more closely; along with some very famous names are others that wouldn’t be if not for this, the performances are not only well-selected but also surprising, and do they sound great for their vintage!

Anyway, I’d broken it out way more often than the average box (box consumers, you know it’s true), and loved it, but the power, commitment, and yearning in the performers’ voices and instruments just hypnotized me for the entirety of the three discs I loaded–so much so I actually felt the need to break the spell and fix that downstairs doorknob that had been waiting for attention since 1999. Bit of a story behind how I acquired the fruitful thing, by the way.

For the last 10 years of my public school career (2003-2013), I had studiously applied for and procured annual grants to create an American music library in Hickman High School‘s media center. With the dedicated help of the center’s staff (especially my fond friend James Kome), I was able to do a pretty decent job. You be the judge. Over the years, the collection consistently enjoyed the highest usage rate of anything else in the center–even after the downloading boom–and I (and a few passionate students) even wrote descriptions for each of the many, many items.

When I saw Goodbye, Babylon advertised, I thought to myself:

a) perfect for the collection in terms of its content;

b) ideal for visionary, creative English, social studies, and music instructors;

c) deliciously tempting for a quiet, idiosyncratic student to explode his brain with; and, of course

d) convenient for me, since at that time I could not afford it.

I included it among that year’s grant purchases, and after greedily unpacking it, James and I marveled at its design, and the serious TLC put into it by the label’s astounding husband-and-wife founders, Lance and April Ledbetter (no mere hipsters, they).

Of course, we were very interested in whether or not it would be checked out. Whenever our grant goodies came in, I would always send out an all-school email highlighting the new selections, and I bent over backwards to make sure everyone saw we offered Goodbye, Babylon. I am sure James may have monitored its usage; I chose not to check because I didn’t want to see corrected my possible delusion that it was being fully exploited for ultimate edumacational gain.

I retired in 2013, but continued teaching at Hickman part-time until the spring of 2015, when the need for old-fart hangers-on apparently evaporated. I’d packed up nearly everything that evidenced my 20 years of existence at the school, when a not entirely selfless idea occurred to me: you best go check if anyone ever checked out that box. It’s called accountability, folks.

I swung by the media center to have James do a records search. Turns out the set didn’t exactly fly out from behind the counter. We made a deal: we would share custody of the child, with me taking possession of the actual artifact with the understanding that, should a student or teacher request it–it’s still linked in the database and bar-coded–I would promptly fork it back over. Since my other retirement gift from the school system, back in 2013, was an analog clock that looked exactly like a tombstone–very thoughtful for a retiring teacher who spent much of his work life keeping one eye on a clock on the back wall, don’t you think?–I considered Goodbye, Babylon the real token of the district’s esteem for my 25 years of sweat. I know: you want to see the clock, right?

clock

It really needed to be engraved, “It tolls for thee.”

Short-shrift Division:

I just can’t shake the reflex of needing to buy a CD. One reason is the rush of those glory days when you could pull off the highway into an outlet mall and find some last-legs record store that was overflowing with cut-outs–like these:

Stanleys

$5 each, sealed, not even a slice outta them–maybe they weren’t even really cut-outs. Most important, though, is: have you heard the Stanley Brothers’ Starday recordings? Your ears may be better than mine, but explosion of bluegrass classics that there issued forth (“Rank Strangers,” “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” “Stone Walls and Steel Bars,” “Shackles and Chains,” “My Main Trial is Yet to Come,” “The Darkest Hour is Just Before dawn,” “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown”–that ain’t nearly all), plus the clarity and simplicity of the performances and production are stunning, silencing, and sublime. I listened to ’em lined up Saturday and was a changed man after. These four discs are probably running pretty cheap on Discogs right now, and they don’t even comprise the group’s complete Starday recordings. If you’ve heard George Jones’ Stardays, these easily rival those. And that, my friends, is no paltry statement, especially coming from me.

S’posed to be “short shrift,” but I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Bloodshot’s brand-spanking-new duet album by Robbie Fulks and the great yet still unsung Linda Gail Lewis, Jerry Lee’s wildcat sis who though a septuagenarian still has plenty in her tank. The album isn’t quite as wild as the cover advertises, and a few ol’ country tropes aren’t twisted quite imaginatively enough for my liking, but Fulks delivers (as usual) some sharp ones, especially the very Fulksian “Till Death,” and Linda Gail really digs into two old-timers, her brother’s gospel fave “On the Jericho Road” and the timeless “Your Red Wagon.” Musically, it’s damned sharp, with the great Redd Volkeart on guitar and Alex Hall on crisp drums and twiddling knobs. Plus: didja know Ms. Lewis can roll those 88s? She had a good teacher. Further evidence of that is found in her raw and ribald memoir, Me, The Devil, and Jerry Lee. She was too much a Southern Christian to have sex before marriage, but she was too horny to wait to get married…and that’s just within the first 10-15 pages. Style: “Jerry Lee is not a candy-ass” is a typical sentence. Avoid candy-assness yourself and take a flyer on a very entertaining tome.

Let’s Not Be L7! (Fri-Sun, August 3-5, Columbia and Springfield, MO)

We’re living it up a bit before “summer” ends, so I’ve been quiet here. In sum:

I.

Drove around Columbia Friday morning running errands and hanging out, and repeat-played this song that we both love as much as a song can be loved.

I have a story about it. I bought it as a cassingle prior to the album coming out, right at the point where I’d gotten dumped by a woman my relationship with whom I more or less willed into being, who I knew liked me but didn’t like me, who more or less humiliated me one evening over a wine error (I don’t even really like the shit), and who clearly wasn’t my type to begin with. BUT I was impatient with my relationship success as my thirties were approaching, and I was a touch desperate. She lowered the boom on me at a fuckin’ laundromat, then showed up the same night at the one party at which I was fairly sure she wouldn’t possibly appear on the arm of her boss (Gross! Dating your boss is for losers!). I drank myself into a stupor, then existed within a dark cloud of doom for a week or so. Even though I really knew she was no great loss.

OK, so for every one of those days, I kept the cassingle on repeat-play in my car. Every day, to and from work, the record store, and the bar (Holy Trinity at that point), this song was blasting. The music? RADICAL. Frightening, in its way–note how that main riff just won’t resolve. Surprising, too (was that a one-note sample from Stevie Ray Vaughan playing on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”? Flav merging Tattoo into Scarface?). ENERGIZING, for certain–it creates an aural scenario that seems to propel one into acting on some life-or-death imperative. And…the rapping? Chuck D climbed into my Top 5 MCs pantheon on the strength of this performance, and I already loved him. “I got so much trouble on my mind! / Refuse to lose!” he proclaims, and that by itself was a mantra that got me through many of those days and into a positive perspective in front of my classrooms (I was teaching five classes of ninth graders!). Not just any MC could ride those rhythms and disruptions! Yessireebob, he made some eye-raising statements in that song that I wasn’t comfortable with, but, hey, it’s a free country, he didn’t exempt much of anyone from responsibility for our (still intact) Terrordome, and his critics tended to overlook his moments of tenderness (yes) and compassion (yes). “….[N]othing worse / Than a mother’s pain for a son / Slain in Bensonhurst!”? “God bless your soul and keep livin’!“? Add on to all of that the thick, exciting scratches of Terminator X and the dense mix of samples that could not be recreated for sale today by Jeff Bezos, and, well, it’s no wonder I could (and still can) listen to it on a loop.

Funny thing is, the woman I was cruising around with listening to it repeatedly Friday morning was the one whose arms I ended up rebounding into–she loves the song almost as much as I do. Thanks to Chuck–still fightin’–and PE, and thanks to Nicole, my life-long soul mate.

II.

Saturday we were stompin’ on our old grounds (the original “Terrordome” for me, now that I mention it) in Springfield, Missouri, on hand to meet up with fond ol’ friends and celebrate our great pal Jill’s birthday. She likes party buses, we like party buses, so we party-bused around The Queen City. We visited Tropical Liqueurs for some frozen dranks, we paused at her future gravesite (she and we are fans of perspective–it helps you get the most out of life), we put our heads together at a hidden lakeside, we sprawled out en masse at the Rail Haven Route 66 Motel, where Jill’d rented a room for her stay and where the young Elvis actually once slept (pause for a pic)–

Elvis 'Otel

–and we landed at The Dugout (formerly The Twilight), our favorite Springfield dive (where I used to meet a favorite English prof and my classmates for pitchers, lit discussion and wisdom dissemination when I was a mere undergrad).

But. But. One of my favorite moments of the whole evening was, well, breaking a rule. It was clearly posted up by the front of the bus: “No swinging on the poles.” Another rule that I didn’t make but which has often seemed to swirl around my brain since I became middle-aged is “Thou shalt not dance anymore.” Well, Jill–are you starting to see how heroic she is? I hope so–is an excellent DJ. She plugged her phone into the bus sound system and just You-Tubed up some tracks, which built us up to such a frenzy that, fueled by Budweiser and a Sex on The Beach snuck in there, I had to jump up, grip the pole two-handed and begin boogieing to her inspired choices. And yelling the lyrics (I’m sorry, Jill!)! Is it untoward for a 56-year-old man to be acting thus? It probably was, but it must be admitted I was joined on the pole by at least two other partygoers! If you find yourself turning away from this tableau, please first reckon with the trio of tracks that moved us off our duffs:

And the blower-off-the-topper…

You play those three in a row sober and see if you can stay put! I bet you’re UP right now if you played them! And wasn’t that last little tune prophetic? I can’t help celebrating it every time I hear it.

III.

A somewhat bleary state of being met us as we arose Sunday morning. Even when we find ourselves up pushing the dawn, we usually awaken right on the other side of it. Nicole arose temporarily; I am seldom ever able to go back to sleep once I awaken. I sat down under a lamp in the corner of the room, cracked a book (Issac J. Bailey’s sad and revelatory My Brother Moochie, if you’re curious), and put in some headphones to listen to a new purchase. Simply put, it’s the best free jazz record I’ve heard this year, and there have been some gooduns (including one by the main man here). It’s out of Portugal, which has an amazing scene, and you should give it a whirl. It’s mos def not a dialogue of the deaf; this band listens and responds in sensitive and creative and sometimes visionary fashion. The driving force, that main man, is Rodrigo Amado–remember the name. He’s been around, but in another way, he’s just getting started:

IV.

What goes up must come down, but the comedown was euphonious–that should always be a Sunday goal, shouldn’t it? When we returned to Columbia, we had to scramble to an event we’d bought tickets for somewhat optimistically, but also under the influence of our wise and cosmopolitan friend Jackie. Columbia’s “We Always Swing” Jazz Series is a near quarter-century-old blessing on our town that, through the hard work of Jon Poses and his staff, brings some of the finest musicians to us to hear. Sunday night was the 2018-2019 kickoff event, a three-set performance by local heroes the Columbia Jazz Orchestra. Sounds very neat for a final night of the week, eh?

Well, a clear sky, a 101-degree early evening, and a bit-too-posh-for-us rooftop venue initially discouraged me. I muttered, “We could call it a donation.” However, Nicole rallied me and I’m glad she did. We got to hang out with Jackie, her mischievously-witted and historic husband John, our old friend Brent, and his wife, the drinks were nice, and the band played rowdily but splendidly, with selections from Thundercat (“Them Changes”) to Ellington (“Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” and they ain’t).

Columbia Jazz Orchestra

I’ve reached a conclusion. On New Year’s Day, I vowed to post an entry here every day. Not so difficult, because I listen to music every day. But, folks, when you’re really living it’s sometimes hard to squeeze in some huntin’ and peckin’–and, admittedly, some days I’ve somewhat forced these entries. So…if you’re keeping score at all…I’m going to post when I can. I will strive to every day. It’s not like millions are hanging on my every word, but I enjoy it, it’s good for me, I’m goal-oriented–and maybe a couple of you do look for me to chime in daily. But I’m gonna live first!

(Note: realize that final sentence is written as an urging to myself, not as a command to you. I’m sure you all are doing fine.)

A Book, A Movie, A Record, A Pal (August 2nd, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Finally finished Britt Hagarty’s Gene Vincent bio The Day the World Turned Blue. It is out of print, a tad scarce, and can be pricey, but on a friend’s enthusiastic recommendation I tracked it down. I don’t regret it. Hagarty’s strategy was to research, interview, and clip articles in order to construct a four-square chronology while tracking Vincent’s personal, professional and painfully physical rise and fall, and that strategy succeeds if you are after the facts. There’s little analysis here (though I’m not sure there is enough art to justify an extended theorizing), and the author is a dyed-in-the-wool Rocker–Mods, be warned. However, I was kept locked in by Vincent’s twin struggles to develop artistically out of his early rockabilly explosion–he needed guidance, a sounding-board, and some serious push-back (sound familiar?)–and simply to keep moving on a leg that probably should have been amputated in the Fifties. It is unlikely that any major American pop figure endured longer (for Vincent, about 15 years) on stage under such constant pain–which, of course, he killed with not only actual medicine but booze, which likely killed him. Also, I was moved to check Hagarty’s enthusiasm for Vincent’s later performances by heading to YouTube, and had to admit I had unwisely assumed he was washed up at the dawn of the Sixties:

If you’re inclined Vincent’s way (listen to Ian Dury’s “Sweet Gene Vincent for a boost), I recommend it.

 

 

I wanted to share Kenny “Klook” Clark’s Pieces of Time record here, as I used the classic drumming team-up with Andrew Cyrille, Don Moye, and Milford Graves to prepare Nicole a little for our venture to check out the Graves documentary Full Mantis. You can hear Pieces of Time on Apple Music. However, I was trying to find the above collaboration between Graves and the late, great Don Pullen as my favorite example for her to dig, but I forgot I didn’t own it and didn’t think to look on YouTube (???). Anyhow, most definitely check that out–if you wanna buy a copy you better take a hammer to the piggy bank.

 

As for the Graves film? If you either a) love freely improvised music, b) are hungry for a daring music documentary, or c) want your mind expanded, as my friend John, a man who’s heard seven decades of music, said to me after we finished watching it, it’s a must. Simple as that. It’s all Graves, all the time–he’s the only talker, and never only in head form–and if you’ve heard him drum, you’ll know that’s a good thing. It’s got plenty of amazing music, dance, horticulture, science (one of the highlights, for me), martial arts, sculpture, medicine, history, and a couple great stories (including one brief one that explains the film’s perfect title). It’s structured, paced, and cut as if to a Graves improv. I’ll stop there, and only add that you should try to be at your sharpest if you partake. It does make fair and bountiful demands of the viewer.

 

I’d be remiss if I left out of the day proceedings the hour I spent with my good friend Donnie Harden Jr., seen above jamming on a Terry Lewis bassline. I met Donnie when he was a student and I was a teacher at Hickman High School. We hit it off immediately and instantly go into music geek mode when we see each other. I hadn’t seen him for awhile, and I’d grabbed him some Prince guitar picks when we were at Paisley Park last week. Also, I was giving him my vinyl of The Time and Ice Cream Castles, plus a spare CD copy of Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages (Donnie’s a Hendrix and Mitchell nut, and he needs to meet Sharrock and Elvin!) and a loaner of the DVD for Standing in the Shadows of Motown–we talk about James Jamerson all the time. So I loaded all that up, grabbed us some KFC chicken tenders for lunch, and dropped by for a gab session. Sample topics: Does Terry Lewis rank? What’s the best Hendrix band? How can you tell who is playing what on P-Funk and Motown records? Why do I hate Jack White so much? Is all the vaulted Prince stuff that’s surely coming out going to be any good? How’d George Clinton get from doo-wop to Free Your Ass? Don’t your music friendships proceed the same way? I hope so. I’m going back over to continue our rap, because he always teaches me something!

What’s Within Arm’s Reach (August 1st, Columbia, MO)

You try to keep your eyes and ears off the news, but somehow it oozes out anyhow. I had to apply salve quickly, without much thinking. Lizard-brain motion.

The Best of The Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975

Could be the House favorite. I take meticulous care of CDs and this is scuffed in spite of that. Nutso yet deeply moving originals, often about dislocation and divided self (“Texas Me”). Norteño-flavored dance rave-ups (“Michoacan”). Flat-out rockers (“I’m Not That Kat Anymore”). Pleading, soulful ballads (“Be Real”). Texas blues shuffles–and I mean ace shuffles (“Papa Ain’t Salty”)–and even not-so-bad stabs at harnessing free jazz to psychedelia (“Song of Everything”). Is that all? Noop! Can you name someone else who could comfortably and solidly cover the ground of the following: Ink Spots, T-Bone Walker, Charley Pride, Freddie Fender, and Cajun swing? Maybe, but it’ll take awhile. Doug was a Swiss Army Knife American musician, and they don’t make that stuff no more.

Caetano Veloso: A Foreign Sound

Well, OK, it didn’t take me long. On this epic journey to wrestle every crease in the American songbook into some bossa nova or samba or (very gingerly) Tropicalia, the daring and heroic Brazilian icon visits not just Dylan and Talking Heads, but also Nirvana and DNA (talk about creases!). Also, and it’s not as sappy as you’d figure with the lilt Veloso applies to them, Paul Anka and Morris Albert and greeting-card Stevie Wonder. AND I can’t leave out a Murderer’s Row of Tin Pan Alley classics. Is the result anything more than being impressed by his flexibility and interpretive intelligence? You might get laid. How’s that grab ya?

Sabu Martinez: Afro-Temple

After the above calmed me down and graced me with a groove (about the news–8/1/18–remember), I needed to get fired up again, and what better than this fiery polemics-and-percussion assault by this great but somewhat forgotten Cuban musician? Cut in ’73, might just as well been yesterday. Bring on the day, darkly as it may sing…

Short-shrift Division:

I love Del. His classic “If You Must” has been on repeat play in Nicole’s jalopy, and I broke this out to revisit it after many years. His mind, his sense of humor, his sneakily sinuous flow, his way with subtly eccentric beats: he’s like the blerd in AP lit who knocked out the loudmouth jock with a sudden left-right combo. All of which led me to this exhilarating KEXP appearance with Dan the Automator on conducting wand and Kid Koala on instant-ID tables. Not something you’ll see every day:

Pop Music Pig-Out: My Favorite Listens of 2018, Seven Months In

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I was on the road half of July and not able to search the nooks and crannies of the many music scenes making life bearable in this world where humans are supposedly safer, better educated, and healthier than they’ve ever been–I’m a science advocate, but in this revelation I’m a bit insecure. Still, 15 new records added to my list of gooduns, and five records added to my list of stellar reissues. Making waves on my chart, which is a bit loosely ordered but starting to reflect my feelings about the quality and durability of its contents:

  • Kid Cudi and —–‘s project Kids See Ghosts, which excites me sonically almost every track–and very much against my will (my former Hickman High School Hip Hop Club members, should any of them read this, will be ROTFLOLing at this fact, as I scoffed at their Cudi-philism constantly–they would vaunt nothing else–during our single year of existence).
  • The great West Coast punk veteran Alice Bag, whose (relatively) old memoir may be adding value to her new record.
  • Subtle Degrees’ intense and madly repetitive A Dance That Empties, a jazz assault that has made my heart race pleasantly every listen.
  • The ageless diva Elza Soares–calling her a Brazilian Tina Turner doesn’t even do her justice, and the music behind her will challenge and delight your ear.
  • Freddie Gibbs’ Freddie. I’ve not been moved by Mr. Gibbs in the past–despite the hype and the decent beats, he’s a hip hop boor to the max–but his dedicated to keeping it brief and his flow makes me forgive the rip-off/homage to Teddy.
  • The Internet’s Hive Mind: If I weren’t feeling a bit emotionally naked at present, and trusted my instincts more, this subtle, grooveful, encouraging, and seductively muted gem may have already invaded my Top 5. Syd’s a persuasive and beguiling sprite, but Steve Lacy just might be a Curtis Mayfield for the 21st century. Just might.

Anyhow, here’s my update, with stuff having moved up and down in my esteem, such as that is. In bold are the records I’ve really, really tested and tried to order, but goddam it, Heraclitus is laughing at me as I struggle:

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  4. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  5. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  6. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  7. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  8. JD Allen: Love Stone
  9. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  10. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  11. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  12. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  13. The Internet: Hive Mind
  14. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  15. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  16. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  17. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  18. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  19. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  20. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  21. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  22. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  23. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  24. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  25. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  26. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  27. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  28. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  29. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  30. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  31. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  32. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  33. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  34. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  35. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  36. Bombino: Deran
  37. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  38. Pusha T: Daytona
  39. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  40. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  41. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  42. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  43. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  44. Nas: Nasir
  45. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  46. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  47. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  48. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  49. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  50. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  51. Beats Antique: Shadowbox
  52. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  53. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  54. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  55. Anelis Assumpcão: Taurina
  56. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  57. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  58. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  59. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  60. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  61. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  62. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  63. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
  64. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  65. Shopping: The Official Body
  66. Young Mothers: Morose
  67. The Thing: Again
  68. Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
  69. Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara
  70. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  71. David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
  72. Shame: Songs of Praise
  73. Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures, Pt. 2
  74. Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
  75. Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens
  76. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  77. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  78. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  79. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  80. Marc Sinan & Oğuz Büyükberber: White
  81. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  82. Deaf Wish: Lithium Zion
  83. Jay Rock: Redemption
  84. MC Paul Barman: Echo Chamber
  85. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  86. Tal National: Tantabara
  87. Wilko Johnson: Blow Your Mind
  88. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  89. Tony Molina: Kill the Lights
  90. Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
  91. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  92. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  93. Silvana Estrada: Lo Sagrado
  94. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  95. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  96. Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
  97. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  98. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  99. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  100. Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  101. Migos: Culture II
  102. 03 Greedo: God Level
  103. Angélique Kidjo: Remain in Light
  104. Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg
  105. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  106. The Carters: Everything is Love
  107. The Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
  108. Superorganism: Superorganism
  109. Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet: Landfall
  110. Sleep: The Sciences
  111. Teyana Taylor: K.T.S.E.
  112. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio
  113. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  114. Various Artists: I Only Listen to The Mountain Goats
  115. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  116. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions

OLD MUSIC NICELY REPACKAGED

  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  2. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  3. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  4. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  5. Various Artists: Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  6. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  7. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  8. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  9. Various Artists: Outlaws and Armadilloes
  10. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  11. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  12. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  13. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  14. Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
  15. Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie
  16. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  17. Wussy: Getting Better
  18. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  19. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  20. The Beginning of the End: Funky Nassau